IN JUNE, the government sent the Tobacco Product and Smoking Control Bill back to the Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSC) for further review. Among others, the committee will look into ways to regulate not just conventional cigarettes, but also tobacco alternatives like vapes.
This is a move in the right direction considering vaping has become increasingly popular in Malaysia. The Madani government can learn from other countries on how to regulate vaping.
A vaping epidemic in adolescents has forced some countries to impose strict enforcement on the production, sale and use of e-cigarettes. Nations like Thailand, Singapore, India, Iran, Taiwan, Brazil and Argentina have banned e-cigarettes.
Hefty fines are imposed on tourists who bring in e-cigarettes.
But do bans always work? Not necessarily.
Although Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa (or religious ruling) against the use of tobacco products, its tobacco black market has seen an estimated 300% rise in the use markup on cigarettes and hookah products.
The Saudi Ministry of Commerce and Investment officially banned the sales of e-cigarettes or vaping products in September 2015. However, there is no explicit law banning vaping and Saudi youth have been indulging in the activity openly.
Saudi’s Public Investment Fund in May 2023 instead set up the Badael Co to develop and manufacture tobacco-free nicotine delivery products across the kingdom by the end of 2023. Badael’s products are expected to help nearly one million people (or a 25% of all smokers) switch from smoking by 2032.
China and some states in the US have banned flavoured vapes that would attract minors, such as bubble gum and fruits. China has also imposed a sales ban on e-cigarettes on e-commerce sites, as well as on live-streaming platforms, which are deemed alluring to minors. Despite the ban, e-cigarettes are still easily accessible to minors.
Meanwhile, the British government encourages conventional cigarette smokers to swap to a less deadly habit through the “swap to stop” scheme. Under this programme, smokers are given vape device starter kits and support to help them quit smoking.
The UK is also offering financial incentives and clinical support for pregnant women to switch to vapes. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the government will form an “illicit vape enforcement squad” to raid vape stores that sell the devices to minors.
Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland allow the sale of vapes, but they are strictly regulating such devices by banning them being advertised. South Korea, on the other hand, imposes high taxation on e-cigarette products but that has not stopped its youth from vaping.
Australia and New Zealand are planning to ban disposable vapes, although the sales of vapes are restricted to pharmacies and can only be bought with a prescription in Australia. Australian authorities remain committed to the idea that e-cigarettes function as tools for smokers to quit.
Our neighbour, the Philippines, is the first country in Asia to enact legislation that distinguishes combustible tobacco products from those that do not burn — ie vaporised nicotine and non-vaporised nicotine products. The Vaporised Nicotine and Non-Nicotine Products Regulation Act allows the Philippine government to regulate the importation, sales, manufacturing, packaging, distribution and use of vaping products.
The Philippine government enforces vape manufacturers to register with the authorities, while prohibiting colourful packaging with various flavours to be sold in the republic. Vapes and vape stores must not operate within 100m from schools.
At the end of the day, vaping is getting more popular among minors and global regulations are becoming increasingly ineffective in preventing them from picking up the bad habit.
The energies of government, media and civil society would be better directed at education and providing factual information on the perils of vaping, rather than punitive actions like bans which will not work — even in Malaysia. – pic AFP
- Liu Hai Kuok, Johor Baru
- This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition